I stepped out of the car, breathing in the fresh country air. Everything was the same. The people, the houses, even the buildings. Some places never changed.
I closed the door, straightened my tie, and walked up the stone steps of the church, telling myself over and over that being there was a good idea.
A woman I didn’t recognize smiled sadly and handed me a program. I took it and thanked her, continuing inside amongst a sea of familiar faces in pews all facing the front where a framed photo of Lauren was resting on a board. She looked beautiful— bright eyed and radiant, beaming to world. She’d been one of the extremely few people I’d kept in contact with since the summer my parents had taken control of my life and shipped me away.
I caught sight of her coffin, and I felt sick. She was in there, but not as the same happy woman I once knew. She was in there broken, ill, and lost. Her cancer had tried to claim her, but she’d fought like the fighter we all knew she was until they told her it was terminal, and she took her own life.
I felt the sadness rush over me again. With the sound of the piano playing and peacefulness of the room, I felt it almost as raw as the day I got the phone call.
The voice made me freeze, and I felt the blood inside me run cold. How could I ever forget that smooth velvet tone? Fifteen years of silence and wondering and separation couldn’t make me forget that sound.
I turned to see Lewis smiling at me hesitantly. He looked good. Better than good. I felt a tug of something in my stomach, and I wasn’t sure if it was excitement, shock, or longing.
“Lewis…” I whispered, worried that all eyes were on us, watching our reunion. I put my hand out to shake his, and he grabbed it and pulled me closer to him in a huge hug.
It was an innocent act, but to me, it brought back all the emotions that I’d had to bury over the years. Clearly, he hadn’t been riddled with the same sadness about my departure.
“You look great,” he said, pulling away and patting my arm. “The city’s treated you well, I see.”
“Thanks. You don’t look so bad yourself.”
He laughed, and we watched each other for a moment until a woman in a flowing black dress came up behind him.
He stopped smiling at the sound of her voice.
“Max, I’d better go,” he said regretfully. “You’re welcome to sit over here with a bunch of us.”
I thought about it, thought about sitting with the man that my parents had worked so hard to keep me from.
I looked over to where he pointed and saw a few familiar faces, faces of Alphas that knew what had happened ten years ago. They knew the whole story.
A couple of them waved, and I waved back, the little confidence that I’d had disappearing quickly. I had a sudden inkling to run out and catch a cab back to the train station.
“Yes, sit with us!” the woman said, her chin resting on Lewis’ shoulder. I didn’t recognize her, so I stuck my hand out to introduce myself.
“I’m Max,” I said, giving her my best smile. “Lewis and I went to high school together. We’ve been friends since we were only small children. Best friends in fact.”
“Oh? Really?” She turned to him, an awkward half smile on her thin lips. “Honey, you never told me about Max.”
Lewis looked at me, and I could see the regret in his eyes as the realization dawned on me.
They were a couple.
“You never asked,” he said flatly. “Why don’t you go and save our seats. I’ll come and sit down in a second.”
“Um, okay.” She kissed him on the cheek and waved silently at me before sauntering off.
“Married?” I asked, looking after her.
“Engaged,” he said stiffly. “But…”
“No buts. It’s fine. I’m happy for you,” I lied. Yes, I was happy that my best friend had finally found someone and that he’d been able to move on, but I couldn’t help the pang of disappointment I felt when I thought back to ten years ago in the garden house of his parent’s mansion. I remembered it like it was yesterday. In fact, I’d thought of nothing else.
“I should sit down,” I whispered, my voice cracking as I rested a hand on his shoulder. “But, good on you. Honestly, I’m happy.”
“Max wait…” he began, but I’d already left his side and spotted a seat three rows behind his.
I felt his eyes on me, and my heart pounded wildly in my chest.
I didn’t know he knew Lauren enough to attend her funeral, and had I, I wouldn’t have turned up. Not when the last ten years had been so fucking hard.
Lewis had been everything to me. He’d been the one person to make me feel alive, and to see him on the arms of another woman cut inside me. Had I just been a joke to him? Was I simply an experiment?
I saw him sliding along a few rows ahead of me and he looked back, our eyes connecting in an intense stare until the woman beside me nudged my shoulder.
“Lauren had so many people that loved her, didn’t she?” she mumbled.
I broke our moment to look at her sad, smiling face, but when I looked back, he’d already turned, and all I saw was the back of his head.
Why did he have to be there? Out of all the people that knew and loved Lauren, why did he have to turn up?
The priest started to talk, but I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. I’d taken a train and two buses to say goodbye to one of my best friends, yet all I could think about was Lewis. He was all I could see and all I wanted to know. How could ten years of separation fall and crumble the minute I saw him again? Why wasn’t I stronger? Why wasn’t I with him?
* * *
The reception afterwards was quite jovial and happy for a funeral, and I found myself sitting on the wall outside the hall amongst the smokers and people on their cells.
The sun had poked out from behind the clouds, and I thought back to the city I’d just come from and how easy everything had been back there.
The men in my life didn’t stick around, and I didn’t want them to. My setup was simple and doable, and there weren’t any feelings involved. City Alphas had that ease about them. Everything was just so uncomplicated.
Ever since my parents had dragged me away from my friends and family here in Grayson, I’d shelved anything that had allowed me to feel, and I was happy—until now. Until the one person that had managed to keep me sane came back into my life so easily that I was on the verge of freaking out completely.
I heard his voice again and closed my eyes. I loved hearing it. Damnit. It was like music to my ears, but it shouldn’t have been. He was engaged now. He had a whole new life, and he was a whole different person. He wasn’t the same boy that I knew years ago. He was older, wiser and stronger… He was straight?
I turned to see him standing behind me with two drinks in his hand.
“Can I sit?” he asked.
“What would you do if I said no?”
He laughed and sat down anyway.
“I see you haven’t changed.” He handed me the pint and I took it, thanking him, and knocked it back.
He watched me, amused.
“Wow. I guess you needed that, huh?”
“Funerals do that to you,” I said, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. “Are you still local? Still Central?”
I cut to the chase. I didn’t care about small talk or drinks or how nice the weather had become, I wanted to know about him. I wanted to know what he was doing now, if he thought about me, or if he remembered us.
“Yes. Kind of, I guess?”
“Faye lives about ten minutes out.”
“Faye?” Then I remembered. “Your fiancée, right?”
“Right.” He took a large gulp from his glass. “I’m over there quite a bit now, but I still have my place in the Cedars.”
“Look Max…” He sighed. “You can’t punish me for what happened.”
“Punish you?” I put the glass down on the floor and ran my hands through my hair. I was slightly tipsy, and the last thing I wanted was to start an argument. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to discuss what went down that night, especially not with him. There were only two people in the world that knew what had really happened between us, and we were both present.
“I wanted it as much as you did,” he said quietly, looking over his shoulder. “I’ve never wanted someone so much in my life.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“It’s true. I…”
“What about Faye?”
“Huh? Yes? What about me?”
We both jumped this time at the sound of her voice as she sat down beside Lewis and rested a firm hand on his leg, and I half wondered if she’d heard the rumors about us.
“Max was just asking about our wedding plans.”
She eyed me suspiciously before nodding.
“Yeah? Well they’re all over the place right now. We’ve lots going on, so it’s sort of taken a back seat for the moment…” I saw her squeeze his leg. “But that’s not a problem. We can wait.”
“That’s a shame,” I lied, looking right into Lewis’ eyes. He looked back at me, cheeks flushed. Years had gone by, but the connection was instant. He didn’t want Faye. He wanted me. He wanted what we’d had. He wanted that summer back. I could see it.
“I think we should go inside,” she said eventually, standing up and straightening her dress.
“I’ll be there in a…”
“It was nice to meet you, Max,” she said to me, cutting him off. He didn’t get a choice, and it was then that I knew the Alphas she’d sat with had explained everything to her. Only, there was so much more that nobody knew apart from us. It wasn’t a silly mistake or a dare or even a joke, as some people had labeled it. It’d been real, every part of it.
Lewis stood up and looked at me, his eyes pleading for forgiveness, but I looked away.
“Feels like a summer night,” he whispered, and I felt his hand rest briefly on my shoulder.
I looked up at him as they walked away, my heart beating so hard that I almost lost my breath. Had he said that on purpose? Did he really mean it?
I watched them walk back inside the hall still puzzled and confused. I needed him to look at me and tell me that he meant it. I needed validation.
‘Feels like a summer night’ was what we’d said ten years ago. It was code—our code—to meet up in the garden of his parents’ house.
Did it still mean the same now? Did he still want that?
I didn’t know the answer, but the one thing that I was sure of was that I was going to find out for myself.
If anything, I needed closure. I needed to know what he thought and why after everything we’d confided in as a couple had he settled with a woman.
I picked up the glass and went inside with it, scanning the room for either him or Faye, but they’d gone. I said my goodbyes to Lauren’s parents and left, wandering out into the cool evening, and the breeze sobered me instantly. The anticipation to see Lewis was overwhelming, and I felt nerves running over me. Alphas didn’t usually intimidate me. I loved them. I loved the thrill of meeting someone new and discovering experiences I never thought I would enjoy.
But Lewis was my first love, my only love, and seeing him again made me even more determined to win him back.